The Bluetooth 4.0 wireless specification could start to appear in devices such as headsets, smartphones and PCs by the fourth quarter, according to the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.
The new specification will be able to be used in lower-power devices than previous versions of the technology, including watches, pedometers, smart meters and other gadgets that run on coin-cell batteries, said Michael Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG standards-setting organisation. Previous versions of Bluetooth could only go into devices with triple-A or larger-capacity batteries.
Bluetooth 4.0 includes a low-energy specification for transmitting small bursts of data over short ranges, in addition to the high-speed data transfer capabilities introduced with Bluetooth 3.0 last April.
More wireless capabilities are being added to gadgets like cameras, portable game players and tablet PCs to help them communicate with other devices, said Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Bluetooth 4.0 could be used to let those devices exchange low-level information without using much energy, he said.
"These protocols are designed to be very efficient because they are delivering small bits of data," Golvin said.
Despite the low-power option, users will notice only nominal battery-life improvements for long-range or continuous data communication, Foley said. Bluetooth 4.0 radios will consume roughly the same amount of power as Bluetooth 3.0 radios when used to sync smartphones with laptops or listen to music with wireless headphones, he said.
The new specification will carry the high-speed Wi-Fi feature introduced with Bluetooth 3.0. That allows devices to jump onto Wi-Fi 802.11 networks, where it can transfer data at up to 25Mbits per second.
Bluetooth competes with wireless technologies such as WiBro, UWB and Wi-Fi. But Bluetooth 4.0 is better-suited for short-range communications, as competing technologies expend a lot of energy to transmit data over similar distances. "They'd be like pulling out a cannon to kill a mouse," Golvin said.
The Zigbee wireless specification is another alternative to Bluetooth 4.0, but Bluetooth has the advantage of being widely deployed across devices, Golvin said. That gives it a head start over competing technologies.
Bluetooth is also an open standard, while most competing low-level technologies tend to be proprietary, Golvin said. For example, The Nike + iPod Sport Kit uses a proprietary technology to send exercise data from a shoe to an iPod or iPhone.